a blog with cultural bulimia.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


 In my very first school play I had the title role of Tiradentes, the largest historical figure in Brasil. I was 8 and I was taunted by the images of his death (and the obvious comparisons to jaycee), a constant in brazilian art. As a m.o.f., the painting on the right is from my grade school textbook...
Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes (Tooth Puller) was the leader of the first organized movement against Portuguese rule in Brasil in 1789. He was born in 1748 near Sao Joao del Rei in Minas Gerais. He was reasonably well educated and worked as a physician, merchant and dentist.

Influenced by the American Revolution and the French Philosophes he organized the Inconfidencia Mineira in Minas Gerais advocating complete independence from Portugal. An attempt by Portuguese officials to collect back taxes (not too different from the collection of tea taxes in the 13 American colonies) touched off the call for the rebellion. The crown quickly and easily crushed the uprising, jailing the conspirators and brutally executing Tiradentes two years later. At his trial he nobly and eloquently defended the republican cause. He was publicly hanged in Rio on April 21, 1792. To frighten the population into complete submission Portuguese authorities ordered his body to be cut into pieces and to be prominently displayed along posts in city boulevards.

Tiradentes martyrdom made him a national hero. Thirty years after his death the king designate of Portugal declared Brasil's independence and became its first emperor. April 21 is a national holiday.